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Monday, January 30, 2012

Henrik Lundqvist is a Perfect Human Being


By Andrew Gross

Nobody's born perfect. Some though, through talent, temperament and personality, are better equipped to present that illusion.

Henrik Lundqvist, for instance.

The franchise goalie plays in his third NHL All-Star Game today — joined by teammates Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi as well as coach John Tortorella — and likely will be named the Rangers' MVP for a sixth straight season.

Off the ice, his for-charity band with tennis legend John McEnroe and drummer Jay Weinberg (son of The E Street Band's Max) is prepping for next month's gig. And Lundqvist, a Madison Square Garden fan favorite whose matinee idol looks have been featured in several fashion shoots, just launched his Crown Collection of apparel to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation, for which he is the spokesman.

And yet Lundqvist, who turns 30 on March 2, swears his unflappable persona, his native New Yorker vibe with his immaculately tailored skinny suits and overall media-friendly patience, is a learned trait after growing up in Are, Sweden, a ski-crazy municipality with a population around 10,000.

"No, no, no," Lundqvist said with a laugh when asked if he's always been so comfortable in the public eye. "When I was younger, I wasn't uncomfortable with myself but, in big groups, I was very uncomfortable speaking to a lot of people. I grew up in a really small town so, for me, a big mass of people made me uncomfortable.

"I turned pro when I was 18," Lundqvist added. "There were more and more media around me, more and more people around me. Growing up with my brother [twin Joel, a forward for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League], he's the same way. We were pretty quiet in a new group. I'm still pretty quiet in a new group but now I feel comfortable."

Yet all of Lundqvist's off-ice pursuits and interests — other than playing guitar he loves going to the movies on an off-day — allow him to be the goalie he is, which is one of the world's best.

He knows when to give to others and when to focus on himself.

"I think he's learned over the years how to be able to do it," Rangers veteran backup goalie Marty Biron said. "You can see how he can handle all that. Not a lot of people can do it. You have to have a special set of genetics to do that."

The DNA to seem perfect.

The Lundqvist twins first played organized hockey when they were 8 and, by the time Henrik was 10, his parents had bought him his first guitar. His first band was with Joel (bass) and their older sister, Gabriella, (drums), who became a tennis player.

"The biggest thing about playing guitar is playing together," Lundqvist said. "I love just getting together with a couple of guys and playing in a studio, not so much in front of people. I find that the most exciting thing, when you feel like you're improving as a group and you get tighter."

Lundqvist wasn't always able to compartmentalize. As a younger goalie, he joked he focused on hockey, "not 24/7, maybe 20/7."

"He's very easy going at times, extremely focused at others and he balances that very well," added Biron, in his second season with the Rangers. "I've gotten to know him more this year; we sit next to each other on the plane and watch our TV show together. It's all there as advertised. He wears it on his sleeve. He wants to win, wants to play, wants to be the best and, obviously, it's showing on the ice, especially this year."

Lundqvist, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, is 22-10-4 with a 1.87 goals-against average and poised to extend his NHL record with his seventh straight season of at least 30 wins to start his career.

"I think it calms us to see that he's so in control of what he's doing," defenseman Steve Eminger said. "He's not an arrogant or cocky guy. He's confident in himself and I think that confidence rubs off on us."

Plus, having Biron (9-2-0, 1.88 GAA) playing so effectively only helps as, per Tortorella and goalie coach Benoit Allaire's plan, Lundqvist likely will play his fewest games since his rookie season.

Lundqvist said he's playing at 12-13 pounds under his listed weight of 195 after changing his workout and eating habits this past summer, also allowing him to stay fresher.

Yes, life is good for Lundqvist – and the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers – as he approaches a milestone birthday.

"I remember Benny told me after last year, goalies, when they're closing in on age 30, they usually get better, they have a better understanding," Lundqvist said. "I wasn't sure what he meant. But I think I'm getting a better understanding of the game and reading plays and players. I guess, around 30, you have a good understanding and you're not slow yet."

The closest Lundqvist has come to perfection. So far.

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